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Taxonomy and Herbaria in Service of Plant Conservation: Lessons from Madagascar's Endemic Families
George E. Schatz
Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden
Vol. 89, No. 2 (Spring, 2002), pp. 145-152
Published by: Missouri Botanical Garden Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3298559
Page Count: 8
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Our actions during the next two decades will largely determine how many of the world's ca. 300,000 species of vascular plants will survive for future generations. The fundamental data that define both the taxonomic frameworks within which species are circumscribed and delimited from related species, as well as the geographical distributions of those species, reside in the world's ca. 3000 herbaria. These herbaria, and the taxonomists who work in them, can and must play a critical role in identifying as rapidly as possible those species most threatened with extinction. A project that has focused on the species in Madagascar's seven endemic plant families has demonstrated the necessity of reviewing, and then revising when necessary, the existing taxonomic framework. Comprehensive databasing and geo-referencing of primary occurrence data then facilitated simple GIS analyses of Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy, estimates of the number of "subpopulations," and their presence/absence in protected areas, all of which are parameters that contribute to an expedient preliminary assessment of extinction risk. In addition, simultaneous mapping of all species in the endemic families revealed centers of species richness and endemism of particular conservation importance: both those already incorporated in the protected areas system, and, more importantly, those that currently fall outside of the protection network. Partnerships among the world's herbaria can efficiently achieve an initial global assessment of the most threatened vascular plant species by focussing on taxa endemic at political and regional (e.g., Hotspot) scales. The synthesis and analysis of the primary data housed in the world's herbaria-our only incontestable record of plant life on Earth-constitutes the most effective and robust means of directly informing conservation planning, and thereby minimizing the loss of plant diversity.
Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden © 2002 Missouri Botanical Garden Press